RSC Carbohydrate Meeting in Belfast and first SugarCoat Team Meeting

Members of the team attended the RSC Carbohydrate Interest Group Annual Meeting at Queens University Belfast. Joe gave an oral presentation in the Great Hall. There were many interesting international speakers including Alexander Titz and Ulf Nilssen, as well as contributors from the UK and Ireland. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland also (Division on Medicinal Chemistry), making it an excellent all-island event. Thanks to Gerd Wagner and Aisling Ní Cheallaigh, among others, for organising.

This meeting also gave an opportunity for the first in-person meeting of the full team of the SugarCoat North South Research Programme project – funded by the Shared Island Fund and the HEA. Postdoc Dr Hannah Crory has been working in the Wylie/McCoy lab in the School of Pharmacy, QUB.

New article in RSC Advances: Glycoclusters with anti-biofilm activity

Our new article, published in RSC Advances (a Gold Open Access journal), describes a series of new ruthenium-centred glycoclusters, which present four carbohydrate motifs around a three-dimensional octahedral scaffold. Multivalent glycoclusters have previously shown the ability to inhibit the carbohydrate-binding proteins which are produced by bacterium P. aeruginosa. Gordon Cooke’s group in TU Dublin tested these new compounds for their ability to inhibit growth of biofilm by P. aeruginosa and we observed that complex 8Gal, with flexible arms between the scaffold core and the galactose motif gave up to 80% inhibition of biofilm, when compared to the control – the other complexes and the ligand did not show antimicrobial activity. We propose that this activity is due to the ability of galactose to interact with the carbohydrate-binding protein LecA.

We thank Science Foundation Ireland for financial support for this work, as well as UCD School of Medicine’s SSRA Scheme, where preliminary studies began.

Walk for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland

Joe raised funds for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland by taking part in their annual Head2Head walk around Dublin Bay. Our research aims to develop diagnostic tools that could speed up diagnosis of P. aeruginosa infections, a widespread problem for people with CF – it seemed only right to try to raise some funds for organisations supporting people with the disease. Thanks to everyone who donated!

Joe in Sandymount starting his walk. The destination is at the end of the headland just next to his left ear!

44th Institute of Chemistry Ireland Congress at Maynooth

Joe was invited to give a flash presentation at the ICI’s annual congress in Maynooth University, organised by Dr Rob Elmes.

The title of his talk was “Carbohydrate-functionalisation – enhancing catalytic activity and potential for sensor design”, and he spoke about his work from his postdoctoral research in University of Bern, along with preliminary results from his new project in NUI Galway. The Congress was a great opportunity to engage with chemistry researchers from around Ireland, including old colleagues.

Joe awarded Starting Investigator Research Grant by Science Foundation Ireland

Joe, pictured with James Lawless TD (Fianna Fáil Science and Technology Spokesperson) and Minister Pat Breen TD (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection) outside the Irish Parliament

Joe was awarded a Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) by Science Foundation Ireland at a ceremony today with Minister Pat Breen. This SIRG award will allow him to begin a programme of independent research in NUI Galway in the coming months and begin to build his own research group.

The new research will develop novel devices that will indicate the presence of specific bacteria through colour changes (modulating luminescence), using interactions of their proteins with sugar-based chemical compounds on the surface of newly-designed materials. This will provide a convenient visual strategy to identify disease-causing bacteria. 3D-Printing will be used to create these compact diagnostic devices, which will benefit patient outcomes and quality of life.

Asked about the purpose of SIRG on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme, Prof. Mark Ferguson (Director General of SFI) said:

“it’s about launching the careers of very bright, young scientists in Ireland”, and indeed it’s a very important programme to allow people like me to return home and start independent research.

Speaking about the planned research, Joe said:

I got interested in fluorescent sensor materials and the chemistry of sugars during my PhD research in Trinity College Dublin with Prof Gunnlaugsson (Irish Research Council Scholarship, 2010-15). Over the last few years in University of Bern, Switzerland, I have been further exploring the role of sugars in catalysis as part of my Marie Curie Fellowship with Prof Albrecht (European Commission H2020, 2017-19). I also gained experience in studying sugar-protein interactions in University of Nottingham, during a 3-month placement there. These interactions are very relevant to a lot of diseases. My new project aims to bring together the skills I have learned through my research training to address practical problems that affect people’s’ lives.

Repro Free: Dublin, 15th January 2019 – Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen, T.D., today launched Science Foundation Ireland’s Plan for 2019 and announced a research investment of €10.8 million in funding for 20 projects in the areas of health, energy, environment, materials and technology. He is pictured with Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) Awardees. The projects, which will be funded for four years, will support 20 researchers and a further 20 PhD students. (Picture Jason Clarke)

By providing a new methodology for rapid diagnosis of bacterial infection, this work will facilitate quicker decision-making on targeted medical treatment strategies for patients. In Ireland this would be particularly valuable for rapid diagnosis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections, a significant risk factor for cystic fibrosis patients (as well as others with compromised immune systems). More generally, helping clinicians avoid the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics would help combat the global challenge of increased antibiotic resistance.
This new technology could also be deployed in other scenarios such as detecting bacterial contamination of water supplies.

This award allows me to return to Ireland and make a contribution to Irish society through scientific research, building upon my experience abroad (in Switzerland and the UK). The Starting Investigator Research Grant scheme has given me a fantastic opportunity to begin my independent research programme at a relatively young age in NUI Galway School of Chemistry, and also to work closely with the CÚRAM SFI Centre for Medical Device Research, a hub of expertise in this sector.

The grant also funds recruitment of a PhD student to be part of this interdisciplinary research programme. Interested parties are welcome to get in touch: Contact Joe.


Press releases: NUI Galway, and Science Foundation Ireland [lay abstracts].

Media: KFM interview, article in the Leinster Leader (“€420,000 grant a 30th birthday present for Kildare’s Dr Joe Byrne”), article on Galway Daily, launch coverage in the Irish Times, article and footage from launch on Silicon Republic.